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A4 Brass Quartet

St Bartholomew the Less
London
Wednesday 19th December

The A4 Brass Quartet rounded off a memorable year of artistic achievement by presenting their accomplished talents to a capacity audience in the elegant surroundings of the Church of St Bartholomew the Less within Barts Hospital.

They opened with Jonathan Bates' vibrant 'Toccata 4', which provided an excellent introduction to the group thanks to its abundant energy and surges of sound.

Original detail

There was a witty acknowledgment that was to follow was their most challenging item; an arrangement of Smetana's 'Overture to the Bartered Bride'. It was a fine take however; including a great deal of original detail expertly covered and a surprisingly full sound even when only a couple of players were in action.

Inventive approaches to Harold Darke's 'In the Bleak Midwinter', followed by a version of 'Let it Snow!' incorporating a schottische and references to 'Jingle Bells' led into an unusual selection of ten 'Romanian Christmas Carols' by Bela Bartok. 

With various leads duets and trios giving the texture, the whole work was underpinned by constantly shifting Balkan rhythms.

'Requiem from the Tuvan Hills' and 'A Tale of Two Peaks' from their CD release 'Mists of the Mountains' showed off further engaging aspects of the group's playing; the first started with CD backing adding the sounds of bells and birdsong as the three lower instruments were joined by the cornet. 

The latter featured fanfare entries - whoops, reminiscent of bebop, starting in the euph before being taken up by the ensemble and unison figures on baritone and euph – and providing a startling contrast to Poulenc's 'O Magnum Mysterium' with its astringent harmonies and unresolved suspensions.

With various leads duets and trios giving the texture, the whole work was underpinned by constantly shifting Balkan rhythms.

Sonorous

Rob Bushnell's '. . . and has forgotten the gift' presented mini-cadenzas, including multiphonics for the euphonium, ending suddenly with a unison descending scale.

Jamie Smith's flugel led in 'Away in a Manger', set against running scales on horn and baritone, and finishing with a sonorous euphonium. 

A medley of 'Santa Baby' and 'Baby it's Cold Outside' had wit and warmth, before the concert closed with a rousing 'Hark the Herald' with audience participation, and an intricate setting of 'We Wish you a Merry Christmas'.

Peter Bale 

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